Did I ever tell you about the best meal I ever had?
I’m reminded of this meal because I came across this article…
Matt D and I were heading off to Chicago for TLC to do a ridiculously expensive shoot with a production company there. Everything was pretty well set as far as the shoot, hotel, etc., but I wanted to try and find somewhere great to go eat. TLC would give us a per diem for food, and on shoot days the set would be catered, so breakfast and lunch would be provided for and you could blow the whole per diem on dinner. Both Matt and I would have $100, so we would start with $200 between us. Then if we each put up $60-$70 we’d be on our way to an exemplary meal.
I asked my friend Zanna, who is definitely a gourmand (reads cookbooks for fun, stays up to date on the cool places to eat in major cities) if she could recommend somewhere in Chicago. She says Charlie Trotter’s. It’s wednesday, and the shoot is Friday, so the likelihood of getting a reservation is slim, but I decide to call anyway and see if there were any cancellations. For some reason I feel like I might have better luck if I call and ask in this super deep bass voice that annunciates…every…word…like…this… Turns out they’ve had a cancellation and we get a table for two.
The shoot goes great, (you can see the spot we made here) and we head off to Charlie Trotter’s.
The first thing that happens as we walk in is that we have to walk through this warm room full of apples. It’s a huge apple smell, heavy, but not crazy sweet. When we remark upon it to the maitre de, he explains that it’s meant to be a sort of palate cleanser from all the smells and tastes of the outside world. It works. We’re seated and then proceed to have a meal consisting of 10 (12? 14?) small courses that range from exquisite to mind-buggling.
I wish I could remember more of them… I know we had squab because it wasn’t until later that I found out it was pigeon… I know we had sweetbreads because I used to serve sweetbreads at the old folks home where I worked as a chef in high school…needless to say these sweetbreads tasted pretty different…and amazing… I remember there was something like 3 different eggs? With a quail’s egg and some tiny other scrambled egg? And they kept coming, and each one was a taste explosion on the tongue. We were drinking wine as well, and the restaurant consisted of several small dining rooms, so we were in a room with about 4 other tables. Each dish caused taste-bud fireworks, and after a while, Matt and I just began laughing uncontrollably. It felt like we were on acid, like our brains just couldn’t take in any more sensation. Nothing made sense, the world was upside-down. We laughed and laughed…
At one point the young, super-rich looking couple in the corner bought everyone a glass of some crazy expensive wine. It came in an enormous glass and tasted heavenly. The waiter came by and said "The couple in the corner would like to buy everyone in the room a glass of ___(insert name of expensive wine here)____." I said we’d be delighted, and asked the waiter what the occasion was. I’m not sure sir," he said, "I believe it’s just that they are having a good night and would everyone else to celebrate as well." Yes! We raised a toast to them. I don’t remember dessert, I don’t remember the bill (though it was steep, even with the per diem in there), I just remember that moment of psychedelic food-ness.
Best meal ever.
I’ve had meals after that which came close, like going with Maxine to Cafe Atlantico’s mini-bar, which is one of those food-science-y meals where you get things like foie gras cotton candy, or watermelon foam sprayed on your tongue. And we had an amazing meal doing the chef tasting at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, VA — although the bill there was both unexpected and enormous.
I’m reminded of this meal because I came across this article that has Charlie Trotter himself in it, taking a dream team of world-reknowned chefs to have dinner at a place called Schwa which sounds pretty amazing. And the next day the chef from Schwa vanishes! It’s an interesting story. It’s sort of fascinating thinking back on great meals…the sensations are so strong that although the memory itself might be vague, the mouth still waters and the overall feeling comes back clearly.
I’m off to get lunch.